Thursday Night Movie Club
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
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Release Date: 19 May 1999

Director: George Lucas
Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman
Jake Lloyd
Ian McDiarmid
Ray Park
Pernilla August
Oliver Ford Davies
Hugh Quarshie
Ahmed Best
Anthony Daniels
Kenny Baker
Frank Oz
Terence Stamp
Brian Blessed
Andy Secombe
Qui-Gon Jinn
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Queen Amidala / Padmé
Anakin Skywalker
Senator Palpatine
Darth Maul
Shmi Skywalker
Sio Bibble
Captain Panaka
Jar Jar Binks
Chancellor Valorum
Boss Nass
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace movie poster Star Wars: The Phantom Menace movie poster Star Wars: The Phantom Menace movie poster
Ewan MacGregor, Jake Lloyd and Liam Neeson in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceStar Wars: The Phantom Menace starts off the first trilogy in George Lucas' planned 9-movie series. This tells the story of how a young boy named Anakin Skywalker becomes known to the Jedi Knights, protectors of the Republic.

The Republic is having trouble with several of the outer planets in the star system. The Trade Federation has blockaded the planet Naboo due to a galactic trade dispute. Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp) sends two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gonn Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his young apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to intercede and reach an agreement to end the stalemate. Unfortunately, lurking in the shadows is Darth Sidius, a Sith Lord who follows the dark side of The Force. The Sith Lord has dark plans for the Republic and his own personal designs to rule over the galaxy.

Meanwhile, the Trade Federation has landed on Naboo and taken the planet's leader, Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) hostage. The two Jedis escape the trap setup by the Trade Federation, make their way to the capital city and rescue the Queen and her escort. During their escape from Naboo, their ship is damaged. They land on the desert planet of Tatooine to make repairs.

Ray Park as Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceOnce on the planet, they make the acquaintance of young Anakin Skywalker, the son of a slave and one of the most gifted mechanical repairmen in the galaxy. Skywalker is destined to become one of the most gifted Jedi Knights, unfortunately, his future is rather bleak. Hang on, Anakin is the son of a slave! One would think the Republic would have the decency to abolish slavery. Oh well...

There are a lot more things going on in the story that were omitted from the above description. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has several things hindering the movie. The storyline is overly complex. The film is overloaded with characters. Just like the first chapter in any serial (Flash Gordon, Superman, etc.), this film is nothing more than an overly long set-up for coming events. There is no Han Solo-esque character. The Jedi Knights are emotionless automatons consumed by the power of the Force that they have lost all traces of individual personalities. At the Jedi Council, lines can be tossed between any of the Jedi on the Council and have the same result. Even Luke Skywalker becomes an automaton in the end. Who would you rather be: Qui-Gonn Jinn or Han Solo?

Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.There is always a problem with casting children in major roles. Children are not very good actors. Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker is no exception. Lloyd is not a good actor. If George Lucas' idea is for the audience to sympathise with young Skywalker, the result is a resounding failure.

One of the other major characters is Jar-Jar Binks, a Gungan outcast from the planet Naboo. A four-year old child will understand the meaning of "outcast". The child would probably throw Jar-Jar Binks out of his playroom too. Ahmed Best plays the role with a Jamaican dialect. As stereotypical as it sounds, Best sounds like a Jamaican on too much "ganja"!

Liam Neeson, Ray Park and Ewan MacGregor square off in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceSpecial effects have grown by leaps and bounds since the original ground-breaking trilogy. The space battles are fantastic to watch but there is just too much going on to adequately follow the action.

The most interesting character in the film is the one who may not have a single spoken line. Ray Park as Darth Maul is a menace, and not the phantom kind. The best scenes in The Phantom Menace are the fantastic light-saber fights bewtween the Sith apprentice and the Jedi Knights.

Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceLooking back on the full range of the various different characters in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, there is no single character who is interesting. Not a one! George Lucas has a tremendous imagination. He has the technical ability to bring his vision to life. Lucas spent too much time and effort on the story and effects. He forgot the most important part of a great film: people; real people; people who laugh, cry, sing, dance, love and all the other wonderful things people do.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a boring movie. The film has no redeeming qualities, no interesting characters, and few really terrible characters. Yes, there are some fantastic special effects. The light-saber battles are the highlights of the film. Lucas may have imagined the pod-race as show-stopper. Without anyone to care about, the race is tedious. The final battle scene is nothing but C.G. created Gungons fighting C.G. created droids.

Lucas may have envisioned creating an epic on the level of Spartacus. But Spartucus has Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons and a cast of character actors who create characters the audience cares about and roots for.

Liam Neeson as Qui-Gonn Jinn in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceThe most critical scene in The Phantom Menace is greeted with a yawn. A Jedi Knight falls in the battle. This is the first time Lucas' fans have experienced this in a film. The Jedi's death comes as no real surprise, which is surprising. The characters in the film mourn the passing of the Jedi. The audience doesn't care!

The Star Wars films are always worth seeing just for the spectacle. The movie is worth seeing... once! Let's hope episode II is better. It can't get any worse than this movie, can it? Oh no!

Note: I am anxiously awaiting the next installment....NOT!